Concerning A. Bogdanov
|Written||25 February 1914|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 121-124.
The editors have received a letter signed by thirteen “Left Bolsheviks” and bearing the address “Tiflis, Caucasus”, asking for our opinion on the question of having A. Bogdanov as a contributor. The signatories call themselves “ideological adherents of the Vperyod group”, and their tone is openly and definitely hostile to our newspaper.
Nevertheless, we consider it necessary to have it out with them once and for all.
Why has it become impossible to have A. Bogdanov as a contributor to workers’ newspapers and journals that adhere to a stand of consistent Marxism? Because A. Bogdanov is not a Marxist.
The writers of the letter, following the cue given by Bogdanov himself in his letter to the liquidator newspaper, try to account for A. Bogdanov’s disappearance from the columns of our newspapers on personal grounds, as being due to personal spite, and so forth. All this is sheer nonsense that is not worth going into or explaining. Everything is much simpler and plainer.
If the writers of the letter were interested, not in “personalities”, but in the history of the organisational and ideological relations among the Marxists, they would know that as far back as May 1909 a delegate meeting of Bolsheviks, after a long and detailed preliminary discussion, rejected all responsibility for A. Bogdanov’s literary-political utterances. If the writers of the letter attached less importance to philistine scandal and gossip and paid more attention to the ideological struggle among the Marxists, they would know that in his books A. Bogdanov has built up a definite social and philosophical system and that all Marxists, irrespective of group allegiance, have expressed their opposition to this system as being non-Marxist and anti-Marxist. All who are interested in the history of Marxism and the working-class movement in Russia know—and those who do not should make it their business to learn, read and find out—that the question of A. Bogdanov’s contributions to a workers’ newspaper is bound up with a much more important question of principle, namely, the relation between Marxist philosophy and Bogdanov’s theories. This question has been discussed, examined, and worked to death in books, pamphlets and articles. The question of a writer’s contributions to the workers’ press should be approached from the political angle, i. e., not from the point of view of the writer’s style, wit, or popularising talent, but from that of his general trend, from the point of view of what he is bringing into the working masses by his theories. The Marxists are convinced that the sum of A. Bogdanov’s literary activities amounts to attempts to instil into the consciousness of the proletariat the touched-up idealistic conceptions of the bourgeois philosophers.
If anybody thinks that this is not the case and that, in the controversy over the philosophical principles of Marxism, it is not Plekhanov and not Ilyin, but Bogdanov who is right, that person should come out in support of Bogdanov’s system, and not argue that one popular article or another of Bogdanov’s ought to be given space in the columns of a workers’ newspaper. But we know of no supporters of Bogdanov’s system among Marxists. His theories have been opposed, not only by his “factional” opponents, but also by his former colleagues in his political group.
That is how the matter stands with Bogdanov. His attempts to “modify” and “correct” Marxism have been examined by Marxists and recognised as alien to the spirit of the modern working-class movement. The groups he formerly co-operated with have rejected all responsibility for his literary and other activities. One can think whatever one pleases about Bogdanov after this, but to demand that he be given space in the columns of the workers’ press, which is called upon to disseminate the elementary principles of Marxism, reveals a failure to understand either Marxism, Bogdanov’s theories, or the task of spreading Marxist education among the masses of the workers.
As regards the business of educating the masses of the workers, to which our newspaper is dedicated, our path and Bogdanov’s diverge, for we differ in our understanding of what that education should be. That is the real issue, which, for self-interested motives, is being obscured by hints about personal relations. Workers to whom the trend of their news paper is dear should brush aside as trash all these attempts to reduce the issue to the “personalities” of certain writers; they must look into the character of Bogdanov’s theories. When they begin to do so they will speedily reach the conclusion we have arrived at, namely, that Marxism is one thing, and Bogdanov’s theories are quite another. A workers’ newspaper should clear the minds of the proletariat of bourgeois, idealistic hodge-podge, not offer them this indigestible fare in their columns.
We may be told: Nevertheless, Pravda did publish several of Bogdanov’s articles. So it did.
But, as everyone now can see, this was a mistake inevitable in such a new undertaking as the publication of the first workers’ newspaper in Russia. The comrades who were in charge at the time had hoped that, in the popular articles which Bogdanov offered the newspaper, propaganda of the ABC of Marxism would overshadow these specific features of Bogdanov’s theories. As might have been expected, things turned out differently. After the first articles, which were more or less neutral, Bogdanov sent in an article in which he obviously attempted to convert the workers’ newspaper into an instrument for the propaganda, not of Marxism, but of his own empirio-monism. A. Bogdanov evidently attached so much importance to this article that after it, i.e., since the spring of 1913, he sent in no more articles.
The question of Bogdanov’s contributions became a matter of principle to our editorial board, who settled it in the way our readers already know.
Now a word about the Vperyod group In the columns of our newspaper, it has been called “adventurist”.
Owing to their inability to think politically and not like philistines, the writers of the letter saw in this too an insinuation against the personalities of the members of this group. This, too, is absurd. Marxists call “adventurist” the policy pursued by groups that do not take their stand on the basis of scientific socialism, such groups, for instance, as the anarchists, Narodnik terrorists, and so forth. No one will try to deny that the Vperyod group is leaning towards an archo-syndicalism, or that they are tolerant of Lunacharsky’s “god-building”, Bogdanov’s idealism, and the doctrinal anarchist proclivities of S. Volsky, and so forth. Insofar as the policy of the Vperyod group has tended towards anarchism and syndicalism, every Marxist will call it a policy of adventurism.
This is simply a fact, which has been confirmed by the complete break-up of the Vperyod group. As soon as the working-class movement revived, this patchwork group, stitched together from the most heterogeneous elements, without a definite political line or understanding of the principles of class politics and Marxism, fell completely apart.
Marching under the banner of Marxism, the working-class movement will ignore these groups, these “empirio-monists”, “god-builders”, “anarchists”, and the like.
- Lenin is referring to the conference of the extended Editorial Board of “Proletary” held in Paris on June 8–17 (21–30), 1909, and attended by nine members of the Bolshevik Centre (elected by the Bolshevik group of the Fifth [London] Congress of the RSDLP in 1907), headed by Lenin, and by representatives of the St. Petersburg, Moscow regional and Urals organisations.
The meeting Was called to discuss the conduct of the otzovists and ultimatumists. It dealt with the following questions: = (1) otzovism and ultimatumism; = (2) god-building tendencies among the Social-Democrats; = (3) the attitude to Duma activities among other fields of Party work; = (4) the tasks of the Bolsheviks in the Party; = (5) the Party school being set up abroad (on Capri); = (6) agitation for a Bolshevik congress or Bolshevik conference separate from the Party; = (7) the breakaway of Comrade Maximov, and other questions.
In the chair was Lenin, who spoke on the main items of the agenda. Otzovism and ultimatumism at the meeting were represented and defended by A. Bogdanov (Maximov) and V. Shantser (Marat). Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rykov and Tomsky took a conciliatory stand.
The meeting condemned otzovism and ultimatumism as being “liquidationism inside out”. The Capri “Party” school organised by the otzovists was declared to be “the centre of the breakaway faction”. A. Bogdanov refused to accept the rulings of the extended editorial board of Proletary and was expelled from the Bolshevik organisation.
The meeting also condemned god-building and resolved to wage a determined struggle against it by exposing its anti-Marxist character. (See present edition, Vol. 15 “Conference of the Ex tended Editorial Board of Proletary”.)
- Ilyin—a pseudonym of Lenin. His book Materialism and Empirio-criticism. Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy appeared in 1909 under the pseudonym of VI. Ilyin.
- See p. 94 of this volume—Ed.
- God-building—a philosophical trend, hostile to Marxism, which arose in the period of the Stolypin reaction among a section of the Party intellectuals, who departed from Marxism after the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–07. The god-builders (A. V. Lunacharsky, V. Bazarov and others) advocated the creation of a new, “socialist” religion in an attempt to reconcile Marxism with religion. At one time they were joined by Maxim Gorky.
The reactionary nature of god-building was revealed by Lenin in his book Materialism and Empirio-criticism and in his letters to Gorky during February–April 1908 and November-December 1913.